I’ve got to admit that COVID-19 scares me, because if I catch it my chance of surviving it is around 20% for one simple reason.
Obesity. Turns out it really is one of the factors that makes it a lot worse. Like a lot of other people I’m carrying extra weight – so much in fact it’s now dangerous.
That’s why I’m pleased the gyms and swimming pools are starting to open from tomorrow.
Yeah alright, you’ve got to book in advance, and yeah it’s going to be a very different experience (e.g. capacity management in all spaces), but you know what – this is the moment to use these facilities to put yourself in good shape to fight COVID-19 if you catch it.
Not just COVID either. Turns out being fit and healthy helps you fight other illnesses and diseases too. COVID was a brush too close for my liking.
Therefore I was genuinely pleased to join the Deputy Mayor Julian Grubb and representatives from Rubicon Leisure today to tour their work at the Abbey Stadium Sports Centre ahead of tomorrow’s reopening.
They’re ready. Boy are they ready. They’ve put a lot of work in to keep everyone safe. The whole site has undergone a full viral deep clean and internal decoration. When I say clean I mean CLEAN. The place is sparkling!
But you’ve got to work with them too – it’s on all of us to each take responsibility and be responsible.
The same applies to the obesity problem. There’s people out there working hard to help us, but we’ve got to help ourselves. Me included. Me especially.
I am conscious and aware of my role to set a good example, and I fully intend to do so. Please feel free to join me on this journey – I’d love to hear your stories and I’d love to hear how we can all work together to make Redditch healthier because today ‘healthier’ also means ‘safer’.
For the latest updates, what to expect and how to book check the link below
I am aware this is a very sensitive issue, but I do have to correct campaigners who have incorrectly named Morton Stanley Park in Redditch on a ‘hit list’ for toppling of statues, which was then published by the Metro and The Sun newspapers and others. Efforts are being made to correct these sources.
I want to make it very clear that the Morton Stanley Park in Redditch is not named after Henry Morton Stanley. It’s named after a local fish hook and needle entrepreneur called William Morton Stanley who had nothing to do with the abhorrent slave trade. He purchased land, which he then generously bequeathed to the people of Redditch in 1924 to be used as a park.
Furthermore, as a former new town that’s just over 55 years old, there are no statues of anyone at any of the parks in Redditch anyway, though the idea of a memorial to William Morton Stanley has been brought up in the past.
As the council’s Portfolio Holder covering culture, parks and open spaces I am keen to stress that Redditch has a rich historic and cultural background with strong working class roots. We are a town that thrives on equality of opportunity and benefits from cultural and ethnic diversity. I don’t think we have ever thought it would be appropriate to glorify figures in history who are marred in human controversy, and if we have ever done so I can commit to bringing these forward for review as soon as they are brought to my attention.
On a personal note, I am fully sympathetic to the debate around our nation’s cultural history. As someone who was raised in a mixed race household it was not until we encountered prejudice that I even noticed as a child my brother was supposedly different to me. In my heart he has never been anything other than my big brother, and I can only hope that our society as a whole can heal and come together with true and long-overdue equality in our hearts and real opportunity for all as the outcomes of our mutual love.
I’m attending a Local Government Association training event for Councillors who have the ‘Culture’ brief on their councils. One of the areas we are covering is how culture can play a driving role in the regeneration of towns, so I wanted to reflect on how Redditch is placing culture at the heart of our own plans for the town centre and our partnerships.
In late 2018 I attended a meeting with Royal Enfield to essentially pitch to them the town of Redditch as a worthwhile place to consider for partnership working in the cultural space. The idea was brought to me by an officer in the council who was inspired by the ‘Unlock Redditch’ vision and had managed to secure the face-to-face opportunity.
At the meeting I set about to outline why Redditch and Royal Enfield could work together, tapping into the town’s rich heritage and history of manufacturing the iconic cycles until the 1960s when the brand left the town. I talked about the pride and passion of the people who have made Redditch their home, and about the place Redditch has in the Midlands as a great leisure destination with top transport links.
We even pulled together a little video where we took an existing Royal Enfield advert and overlaid it with a track called ‘Want You Back’. The video isn’t official, and hasn’t been sanctioned. It was just a bit of teaser to convey the opportunity that lay before us. Here it is in the spirit of openness (and because I’m quite proud of it – I produced it myself – i.e. I did the musical overlay not the visuals):
The pitch worked. A number of meetings followed, and the big area of discussion was around how could we (as partners) deliver something that would have maximum impact for the town of Redditch both in terms of something that Royal Enfield could be proud to put their iconic name to, and something that would resonate with the people.
We pulled in Prof. Petro Nicolaides who is assisting WM Mayor Andy Street on the return of the Birmingham Superprix. Petro is a friend, and so he kindly agreed to help Redditch in his limited free time. I cannot emphasise enough the energy and the connections Petro brought to the new Royal Enfield Task Force, and how grateful I am for his help and mentorship.
Initially, we looked at the possibility of running a road race through Redditch. We had the idea that Royal Enfield bikes would race around the Redditch Cloverleaf, one of the few full cloverleaf junctions in the UK. However, it soon became apparent that closing two major A-Roads would be a financial and logistical step too far.
The end result of these initial discussions was the ‘Royal Enfield Pop-up Museum’ that ran for 6 weeks in the Kingfisher Centre, the main tourist destination in Redditch. This museum was intended to be the first outcome of the partnership, not the last. It’s the start of the journey.
Here’s what the pop-up museum looked like:
Local, regional and international media reported on the museum, with headlines like:
The legendary Royal Enfield – the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production – has revved its way back to its birthplace after 56 years away.
Here’s another video, this time from Royal Enfield themselves that showcases how the former factory workers were put at the heart of the opening events, which took place over two days:
Working with the Kingfisher Centre, the museum was able to take a previously empty shop unit for 6 weeks, and was immensely successful. The shop was never empty and people came from all over the region to visit – former factory workers, enthusiasts and those just curious to see what all the fuss was about.
Naturally, whilst they were there they also enjoyed a drink and something to eat, and browsed the shops, delivering an economic boost to the area.
What’s more, the Royal Enfield Owners’ Club have been inspired by the event and feel confident to start talking about opening a permanent museum in the town. This would be a transformation – actually doubling the number of museums in Redditch (currently, we have just one).
As the Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Leisure & Culture I am making it my mission to keep bringing exciting things like this to Redditch, and also to build on the Royal Enfield partnership, which I hope will be something that endures, grows and flourishes long after I’ve left office.
There’s been a lot of misconception going around – some of it accidental, but some of it deliberate. Let’s get to the facts of the matter and provide some more detail. As is often the case in this social media age, the accusations can be wrapped up in a single line, whereas the actual reality of the situation is a bit more complicated. I’ll update this post as new things come up. Here goes:
The claim: Redditch Borough Council is cutting support for charities in the town. The reality: Rent subsidies for 9 organisations are being phased down (but not out) over three years – only some of which are registered charities. The level of support for the approximately 9 organisations (not all are registered charities) who rent from the council will stay the same at 70% for 1 year, before going down to 50% discount in year two, and then finally 20% discount where it will stay until a new policy is decided.
The Accusation: Redditch Conservatives don’t care about volunteer and community sector (VCS) groups. The Response: The council, under Conservative control, is setting aside £525,000 over the 3 year period to support VCS groups in the town. That’s nearly 2% of the council’s entire budget at a time when it is under a ‘Section 24’ notice, which means the money will run out in less than two years unless drastic action is taken. In this situation the council would essentially fold and all but the legally required services would be cut, including funding to VCS groups in full. To be able to carve out 2% in these times is actually an achievement, especially if you look around the country and see some councils provide nothing. Previously, the level of support was around 4% of the council’s total budget.
The Accusation: Councillors increased their allowances whilst cutting support for VCS groups. The Response: The decision to increase allowances was based upon an independent remuneration report that was rejected by the Labour-led administration for 11 years. This meant that Councillors were left severely out of pocket the more active they were – meaning the harder they worked for local residents the more out-of-pocket they would become. Allowances are not wages. They cover the cost of envelopes, stamps, paper, and petrol whilst working on behalf of residents outside of meetings, along with other incidental expenses. If a councillor holds a surgery at a cafe, as I like to do sometimes, the cost of me buying a tea/coffee for my constituent whilst we have a chat comes out of my pocket. If I have to write letters on their behalf the cost of the paper, the ink and the postage is on me. If I drive to a meeting on behalf of a constituent the cost of the petrol and the parking ticket is on me. No councillor goes into politics for the money, but how can we encourage people from poorer and working class backgrounds to get involved if the reality is they will be quite a lot poorer for doing so. This leads to only wealthy and usually retired people becoming Councillors and that’s jut not representative of the demographics of Redditch.
Claim: There aren’t any VCS groups who don’t rent from the Council Reality: That’s just not true. There are around 9 organisations who rent from the council. According to the Charity Commission there are over 1,997 charities registered across Worcestershire and there are many groups across the town that rent from private landlords – and get no subsidy for their rent.
At last night’s Redditch Borough Council Executive Committee there was a proposal put forward to close the council’s One-Stop Shops and support Allpay, allowing members of the public to use more locations to pay council bills in person, giving them more choice about how and where they pay their council’s bills.
The Redditch Community Lottery is now live and I’m delighted to see that 13 local good causes have registered to benefit from this scheme. Tickets cost £1 per cause per week and frankly it’s not about winning for me – it’s about having a quick and easy way to support local causes with a small donation via a regular direct debit.
You can register as a good cause or as a player here:
Redditch Community Lottery was created in 2019 by Redditch Borough Council.
Set up to support community projects in the local area, Redditch Community Lottery operates on the principle of raising money within the community for the community. We empower local good causes to raise money in a fun and effective way.
In a time of shrinking budgets and increased community need, Redditch Community Lottery enables people to support the causes they care most about, helping good causes to connect with their supporters.
A ticket for Redditch Community Lottery costs £1 per week and 60p will go directly to good causes!
There are 68,185 possible players in the district/borough (i.e. over 16 and resident). Technically the player population is much wider than this as there is no restriction on player location; however for simplicity this population is assumed to represent the vast majority of players.
Whilst it is difficult to assess the actual take up rates of players for the lottery, this will in part reflect the desire to play, the types and spread of the good causes involved, and the marketing and support given to promote the lottery. The table below sets out a breakdown of possible player levels and the resulting financial split that these would produce:
It is up to you, the voters, to hold Councillors to account for their decisions at the ballot box.
I fully support the Councillor Community Grant Scheme – it’s a great way to get much-needed funds down to the grassroots level of society where it can really make a difference. One of the projects I recently supported was able to provide a summer holiday youth club for children with autism.
In response to this week’s Editor’s Comment, I just wanted to explain a couple of things and let residents judge for themselves in possession of both sides of the debate, not just the one.
Actually, by having our Climate Change Panel in private we can have *more* public engagement and participation in its work not less. As a private panel, it has the power to set its own topics and invite key members of the public to come and present and/or give evidence. This means the opportunity for interested people to come and persuade the powers that be is *greater* than it could be in a public meeting.
A public meeting only allows the public to come and ask a question. Questions are usually time-limited and at the discretion of the chair. That’s because the public are there to observe and scrutinise the work of elected officials in a public meeting so they can hold them to account at an election time, whereas in a private meeting they can be elevated to contributors and give their evidence and submissions in what the modern world refers to as a safe space. It’s an important distinction.
As for the target – the reason why this has been sent to the panel to determine is due to those of us in the Conservative administration having a belief that we can actually set the target to be sooner than 2030, so we want the panel to determine if this is feasible or not. We want them to come back with an answer based on evidence, not political expediency. We know other councils have opted for 2030 or 2050 in response to public pressure, but how do any of us know that actually they could not have done it by 2025 or 2032 or 2038 or sooner?
I don’t deny that the public mood on this topic has helped us get our skates on. But the local media and local campaigners seem to forget that my colleagues and I are on the same page, we are on board with this and we share that public mood too. We are, after all, representatives of the people.
What’s more, we turn up to the meetings. It’s all well and good to make a big noise about ‘public’ versus ‘private’ but the council has held TWO public meetings on this topic now and there were no Green campaigners or environmental activists in either of these meetings. As I’ve said before, it’s all well and good amassing a crowd outside Town Hall, but you’ve also got to engage in the committee rooms where the decisions are made.
Her Majesty’s Government today announced that 100 places across England have been invited to submit a business case to access up to £25m each from the £3.6bn Towns Fund established by our Conservative government.
There’s more to politics than Brexit, and Redditch really needs this boost – so it was fantastic news to hear this morning that Redditch is one of the towns that will get something from this fund.